For a while I'd been noticing how cheap lasercutters had become on Ebay.
I'd considered putting one on my list of 'things to look at when I next fancied a new
toy', but was initially discouraged by some mixed opinions I'd read. My only
immediate application would be for making SMD paste stencils, but I'm sure I could find
As expected, documentation (including video on CD supplied) was as appalling as we've come to expect from Chinese suppliers. However I already knew what needed hooking up - water pump and reservoir, ventilation etc. so no big deal.
I was fully expecting to have to spend a lot of time fiddling with optical alignment etc., based on experiences I'd heard of from another user who'd bought a larger model from a UK reseller, however the only thing I had to actually fix was the flex cable, which had come unstuck from the bottom of the case (see pic later).
I tried a quick cut of a polyester solder paste stencil, and it came out pretty well considering the power setting was pretty arbitary - certainly useable and with a bit of tweaking probably capable of cutting for 0.5mm QFPs.
As you'd expect from China, the software is poorly designed and somewhat flaky but just about useable. The biggest annoyance is not (AFAICS) being able to set a numeric scale factor, and not locking the aspect ratio when scaling.
The original Ebay listing stated it came with NewlyDraw software, which does raster and vector cutting, but it was actually suppled with NewlySeal, which only does raster and is designed for engraving. You can do cutting in raster mode, but it is very slow, and cutting speed only goes down to 1cm/sec, which will just about do 2mm acrylic in one pass at full power. I've contacted the supplier and they are promising to send the NewlyDraw software, although they did say they didn't reccommend it with this model - I wonder if this means the primitive controller and/or hardware isn't up to moving both axes simultaneously (in raster mode, only 1 axis is moving at a time). Will update when I find out.
Safety & quality issues
There are a number of issues, and there's no doubt whatsoever that the
product does not comply with all the required standards, or even the ones it claims
to, but that's nothing new.
No water flow or temperature cutout to protect the tube. Nothing to turn
off the tube if the motors stop, increasing possible fire hazard.
Neither the water pump nor extrator fan are CE marked. both come with suspiciously thin mains cable and puny 2-pin flat US style plugs.
Controller uses socketed ICs - really bad idea for a machine that
vibrates, especilly with cheap sockets. I had a couple of 'hanging with the beam still on'
issues that seem to have gone away after reseating the chips in their sockets.
How well it will last, only time will tell... I've seen lifetimes quoted of 1000 hours for the tube and 25 hours for optics, so as with many things there is a tradeoff between running costs and purchase costs. You can buy a lot of spare tubes and optics for the difference in price between this and the cheapest Epilog!
Conclusions (so far...)
If you want a cheap cutter/engraver for hobby or non-critical use,
and the choice is between this or nothing, I'd say go for it.
However if you're thinking of starting an engraving business, or lasercutting is a critical part of your business I'd suggest looking at better made products, or at the very least buying two cheap units so you have a backup.
For the money though it's hard to complain too much, and performance is surprisingly good.
Of course I may have been lucky and YMMV...!
When searching on ebay, search for laser cutting as well as laser cutter. CO2 Laser (cutter,cutting) -tube is a good search.
There is another possibly newer model, HX-40A, typically £100 more, from fewer sellers, which appears basically similar but addresses some of the safety issues, having keyswitch and cover interlock. It also has mains outlets on the rear for the pump and extractor, an internal lamp, the PC connector on the rear instead of the side, and a multiturn dial pot for current adjustment. It looks like it may also have an adjustable-height bed. Here's a video showing installation and maintainance of this model. If I were starting over, I'd probably go for this model instead. Update - I think this one probably also doesn't suffer from the lack of speed control - see speed control hack below
Cute ribbon transit-lock..!
Bed has a spring-loaded object holder aimed more at engraving than cutting.
For cutting I put a sheet of large-aperture steel mesh over the top. Although working area
is nominally A4, the extraction duct (white, at rear) isn't full-width, which may limit
materials that can be used further away from it due to smoke.
Flex cable stitting on mains terminal block - nice!
HR end of the tube, HV wire soldered and siliconed.
OC end of tube, with first mirror. Mirror screws are not fine pitch, and locked with nuts so adjustment is likely to be somewhat fiddly.
Flex to carriage stuck down with thin double-sided tape - this had come unstuck.& needed repositioning
Overview of electroinics. Laser PSU in centre, 50K ballast resistor on right.
Bodge boards or personality modules? on laser PSU. Chip is a UC2825 PWM
Controller board. Very archaic design - Two OTP 8052 series MCUs, there's even some 74LS TTL on there, the latter suspiciously devoid of a maker mark! Has a 2004 copyright date on the PCB but this design was outdated even then...!
Can't understand why they socketed the ICs - as well as the extra cost, using cheap sockets in a machine that vibrates is asking for poor reliability.
From the Ebay listing : "Adopt Japan imported advanced motherboard and microchip" - if that control board has been anywhere near Japan then I'm a Chinaman.
PCB is hand-soldered - what a surprise..!
PSU for controller - just a bunch of 78xx regulators. Also links the laser-on signal from controller to laser PSU.
I used an Addis food container as a water reservoir, which has a nice locking
lid to reduce risk of spillage. Pump attatched to lid for easy access.
Update 12 Feb 2011
Many people said that air assist is pretty much essential for cutting, so I bought an air assist nozzle from Here. Quite nicely made, but can be hard to align. I figured out an easy way to do this - by putting a mirror in the beam path, and some well-lit paper on the bed, you can look down the beam path to ensure the nozzle is centred, so the beam doesn't graze the nozzle.
Place the head at the right of the carriage so you're looking along a good length of beam path, find the head aperture in the mirror, then move the nozzle to get a clear circular spot from the paper, via the lens.
..and don't forget to remove the mirror when testing!